The only major holiday celebrated by the Hmong each year is the New Year’s celebration timed to fall during the full moon at the end of the twelfth lunar calendar month usually around November. In Laos it falls after the rice harvest and also marks the beginning of the lunar New Year.
Around the world Hmong community leaders plan celebration festivals filled with sports, music, beauty pageants, and plenty of food. The celebrations last from three to seven days and may be held in November, December, or January. In some areas several groups hold celebrations at different times so that everyone can participate in each other’s festivities. In St. Paul this year the Hmong New Year will be celebrated November 26 – 28.
The Hmong New Year celebration is also a traditional time for young men and women to select their mates and begin to become acquainted with them by strolling up and down the rows of food vendors sharing favorite Hmong dishes. If, at the end of the day they wish to pursue their courtship further, they will see each other later in the year in more private, family settings. Traditionally, it is the only time that Hmong parents condone public romance.
New Year celebrations continue with formal banquets held by families or individual clans where food is the star of the show. Traditionally, a pig is butchered so the banquet has plenty of larb and sweet meat. Hard Cooked Eggs are given to each guest and Green Papaya Salad and Egg Rolls are often on the menu.
Traditionally Green Papaya Salad is filled with garlic, fresh chilies, tamarind, lime juice, sugar, cherry tomatoes and seasoned with fish sauce, crab paste and shrimp paste. Combined with julienne green papaya, the spice mixture is pounded together with a mortar and pestle to blend the flavors of sweet, sour, hot, and cool then tossed with the fresh papaya and tomatoes.
While recipes for traditional Hmong dishes for centuries have been verbally passed down from one generation to the next, there is an excellent cookbook published last year by the University of Minnesota Press, “Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America.” Authors Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang had been neighbors for years exchanging American and Hmong family recipes when they decided to combine efforts and compiled the first hardcover cookbook featuring Hmong recipes. It is filled with a wealth of information, easy to understand recipes, and provides a way to truly appreciate traditional Hmong food. With a cover price of $29.95,
“Cooking from the Heart” is a good choice for holiday gifts or for your own library of world cooking.
Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asian culinaryarts.com.